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2018 Shrimp Festival
March 13, 2018

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As princess after princess rolled by in their Corvette chariots, a group of teenagers shouted words of encouragement.

"You're a queen!"

"You're amazing!"

"An idol!"

Cypress Lakes High School sophomores Alex Dongo, Ashley Pineros and Noah Shively attended the 2018 Fort Myers Beach Lions Shrimp Festival parade to cheer on a few of their friends, who were competing in the princess pageant. But during the parade, the three decided to shout words of glowing encouragement to all 13 entrants, even those they didn't know.

"We came to support female empowerment," Shively said.

As the parade went on, the friends continued to support other floats, such as the young girls on the Bayshore Cloggers Dance Team, showering them with praise and encouragement.

Saturday was filled with this kind of positive energy for the 60th annual Shrimp Festival. It's seen by many as an unofficial holiday on the beach, a time for friends to get together and celebrate while the air is filled with community spirit.

Debbie Martin has lived in Fort Myers for 38 years, and had never been to the Shrimp Festival until this year. Her friend, Diana Byers, couldn't believe she'd never attended. So she rustled up a group, including their other friends Caroline Pearman and Kathy Anderson, to get spots to sit during the parade.

"Diana's dragging me around to all these things," Martin said.

Robert and Vivianne Papen have been coming to the Shrimp Festival for four years. The couple lives in Quebec, but times their three-month stay on Fort Myers Beach to be sure they're here for the festivities.

"Every year we come for the parade," Vivianne Papen said. "(I like) how it's organized. It's simple, it's joyful."

There were 44 entries in the parade this year.

The Papens celebrated outside the Sea Gypsy Inn, where owners Scott Safford and Jacki Liszak throw a parade watch party each year. The couple buys food and drinks out of their own pockets for anyone who wants to come and hang out, and accept donations which are given a local cause. This year, donations were given to the Beach Kids Foundation.

It started when they first opened the hotel; they decided it would be a good way to meet the islanders and have an open house. It's grown since then to be an event that gives back, Safford said. This year, they raised $1,350 just from donations from their party attendees. Their friends and guests can sit and watch the parade, and buy raffle tickets to raise more funds.

"It's the event where all of our friends, locals, off-islanders, snowbirds and guests all get together on Fort Myers Beach," Safford said. "It's almost like one big family reunion. We look forward to it every year!"

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